Israel: No Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program; Barak: Any decision to Strike Iran “Far off.”

As Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Israel Thursday, the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper dropped its own atomic bombshell.

Israeli intelligence agencies have worked up an intelligence assessment that Iran has not yet decided whether to begin a military program to construct a nuclear warhead. Put in other words, Mossad believes that there is no current Iranian nuclear weapons program. Haaretz writes:

“The intelligence assessment Israeli officials will present later this week to Dempsey indicates that Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb. The Israeli view is that while Iran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities, it has not yet decided whether to translate these capabilities into a nuclear weapon – or, more specifically, a nuclear warhead mounted atop a missile. Nor is it clear when Iran might make such a decision.”

This is the same conclusion to which the 16 US intelligence agencies have come in 2007 and 2010. It is also consistent with what the Iranian government itself says, which is that the Iranian nuclear enrichment program is a civilian one and that Iran is not trying to construct a nuclear weapon. Likewise, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which continues to inspect Iranian nuclear facilities, has repeatedly and consistently stated that no nuclear material has been diverted from the civilian program.

Haaretz says that Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak gave an interview with the Army radio, in which he come to another surprising conclusion. Asked if Israel plans a military strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities in Natanz near Isfahan, Barak replied:

“We haven’t made any decision to do this . . . This entire thing is very far off.”

I should think this assertion is pretty clear. But the journalists wanted to know what he meant by “far off.”

Barak told them,

“I wouldn’t want to provide any estimates. It’s certainly not urgent. I don’t want to relate to it as though tomorrow it will happen.”

It is hard to see these statements by Barak as anything but a massive climbdown by the Israeli government from its attempts to whip up war fever on the Iranian nuclear issue.

After loudly insisting ad infinitum that Iran’s nuclear program is an existential threat and saying that Iran is one to two years from having a bomb (which Israeli governments have been saying every other year for at least two decades), and hinting around that Tel Aviv plans an imminent strike on Iran, all of a sudden Iran hasn’t even decided whether to start weapons program and any Israeli decision on action is “far off.”

Why would the far right wing Likud government reverse itself like this?

It is the problem of reacting to contemporary events in real time that we just don’t have the inside story, and don’t know what has gone on behind the scenes.

But my guess is that President Barack Obama was deeply alarmed by the degree to which tensions with Iran had been ratcheted up, to the point that Tehran felt it necessary to make unrealistic threats about closing the Straits of Hormuz through which about a fifth of the world’s petroleum flows. Likewise, Washington appears to have been upset about the assassination of yet another Iranian scientist connected to the Isfahan enrichment program.

Despite Israeli attempts to spin the cancellation or postponement of US and Israeli joint military exercises as an Israeli initiative, they were more likely scotched from the American side to show displeasure or to avoid a provocation of Iran when Iran already seems pretty provoked. (Israel has much to gain and nothing to lose from conducting such joint exercises with the US army, insofar as it reinforces for the Middle East region US devotion to Israel’s security).

If I were Obama campaign chief David Axelrod, I would want to lower the temperature in the room on Iran. The Hormuz threats and the Iranian naval exercise made the oil markets jittery and put the price up. Higher oil prices are bad for presidential reelection bids. American voters, i.e. drivers, seem to think that the purpose of the president is to find and deliver to them cheap gasoline. Presidents who failed to do so, including Nixon, Ford and Carter, left the political stage under a cloud and either didn’t get or didn’t finish a second term.

Obama needs a calmer atmosphere on Iran if he is to be reelected. Whether he has has abruptly gotten the Israeli government to go along with him on this issue by using a carrot or by resorting to a stick, we cannot know at present. But he likely either threatened the Likud or promised them something they want. Part of the promise may be to keep the pressure up on Iran through the current campaign to stop outsiders from buying petroleum from Iran, by sanctioning the Iranian central bank. Starving Iran’s treasury is one gambit, though it is not my impression that most people in the protest movement will accept being manhandled that way.

26 Responses

  1. The cool thing about the nastiest players in the Great Game is that they may do a strategic step sideways, or even slightly backward, from the ragged edge they play along, looking for power and profit. But you can just bet that the motion is just a feint, calculated to reduce an immediate pressure or friction, but not representing any fundamental change in the choreography of their dance-and-advance.

    How are those settlements coming along, Ehud and Yahoo? And I hear that your “defence industry” is having another banner year, peddling the devices of destabilization and destruction all over the world. Much like the one nominally headquartered in America, peddling “coolness” and the promise of Interoperable Battlespace Domination and fear in equal measures to would-be hegemons all over the planet.

    It’s what happens when the individual personal pursuit of power and wealth intersects with the flow that is our species. Individuals, many of them, know that their life spans are limited, that they can live large as predators and parasites without much fear of personal consequences or retribution, and that what happens after they die in comfort and ease means essentially nothing to them — with the exception that there will be a few generations that recall their names or their parties with fear and disgust and maybe a little awe.

    Without some enormous spiritual change, without some sudden new set of notions of stability and comity, without a different organizing principle that trends toward homeostasis rather than an atavistic yearning for the End Times, gee, I wonder what the End Game of the Great Game will look like?

  2. “we just don’t have the inside story, and don’t know what has gone on behind the scenes”.

    This is most true, and part of my frustration with people sometimes.

  3. Decades ago, I learned America never goes to war for the reasons stated publically. That’s just propaganda to get the masses fired up and agree to send the sons/daughters of the poor off to war. No one really believes Iran is building a nuclear weapon. We’re just angry because Iran won’t step off the side walk so we can pass by.

  4. “But he likely either threatened the Likud or promised them something they want.”

    It’s doubtful Likud, AIPAC or the Neocons reacted in this manner in response to any threat by Obama. Could it be the president promised an attack on Iran after the elections? If so, given the Republican candidates’ positions, Israel would be assured of an attack on Iran by early 2013.

  5. To the US and Israel Iran is a rabid dog, and our policies are based on that presumption. Should we just leave it in its cage, starve it to death, or maybe put it down?

    The well being of Iran’s 75 million citizens is really not a factor should we attempt to starve the country with ever more overarching sanctions, or should we decide to bomb what would inevitably be a large collection of targets, given our shock and awe history.

    And heaven forbid that Iran should construe our (US and Israel) policies as baldfaced threats to its well-being, independence, and sovereignty. Such an attitude only reinforces our notion of Iran’s danger to the world. I mean our President has been awarded the Nobel Peace prize, and Israel holds open elections.

    If taken out of the context of US and Israeli exceptionalism, I’m sure the military and national security wisemen would recommend that Iran get a “bomb” as quickly as possible if it wants to be left alone, aka the “North Korean Gambit”.

  6. Don’t you think that the postponement of the action of the joined military forces represent the carrot and the stick all together?

  7. A comment made on the cited Haaretz article bears repeating here: “If [even] Israel acknowledges that Iran has not yet made a decision about acquiring nuclear weapons and certainly doesn’t have them yet – what on earth are the sanctions for? Put it another way. how is Iran supposed to comply in order to have the sanctions lifted? Stop its nuclear weapons programme?…oh wait.”

    Increasingly the real reason is becoming clear. This is mainly about making the world safe for Israel and “securing the realm” for the zionist settler-colonialist enterprise.

  8. this sounds like good news

    After loudly insisting ad infinitum that Iran’s nuclear program is an existential threat

    To be fair, Barak has said that Iran wasn’t an existential threat, but no one wanted to hear it, especially in the US:

    link to haaretz.com

  9. This is big news, Dr. Cole. Not surprising, perhaps, is that it rated not a mention in any of the major, English-language media I read regularly, either yesterday or today – not even BBC or (as far as I could tell) The Independent or The Guardian.

    I suspect that Pres. Obama got on the phone and used both carrots and sticks to get the Israeli government to back off its publicly-stated views on Iran’s supposed nukes. The shift may also explain why a major Hamas politician was arrested yesterday by Israel as he tried going to Jerusalem from Gaza – to divert domestic news attention away from the significant change in Israel’s view of Iran.

  10. The Iran war frenzy was just another campaign of lies to hobble any country that defies the US or challenges Israel’s regional hegemony. Even Israel now admits Iran has no nuclear weapons program but that doesn’t stop us from trying to crush it economically – itself an act of war. Nor, apparently, does Israel shy away from murdering Iranian scientists whom they acknowledge are not working to develop nuclear weapons to match Israel’s. Yet we are constantly being told that Iran is “provoking” the US – similar, I suppose to the victim being at fault for provoking the rapist.
    It’s not the nasty mullahs who bother us (Saudi Arabia is far worse) but rather the defiance of the regime. It closed Iran to US multinationals and is openly opposed to Israeli state-sponsored terrorism and land theft . What chutzpah.

    It’s instructive how our media slavishly spreads this lying innuendo about Iran which has not attacked any other country since the US was created. Who needs Pravda when you have our eager stenographers to power?
    The US has attacked many dozens of other countries while the US mainland has been attacked only once – by Canada/UK, but only after the US invaded Canada in 1812 seeking to annex it.
    With thousands of nuclear weapons, massive oceans to the east and west and friendly weak nations to the north and south, the virtually invulnerable US claims it is necessary to spend almost as much on its “defense” as the rest of the world combined. We are expected to believe that peaceful, no nukes Iran is a dire threat to the US. This is almost more funny than sad.

  11. Is this Bibi’s move or did cooler heads, such as Ehud Barak, finally have enough of his Sabre rattling and let public what the Israeli government knew for years.

      • True, but compared to Bibi, and maybe a more reality based assessment than the Likud would like, or do you think they publicly agree with the assessment?

  12. G. McDade write: …”any country that defies the US or challenges Israel’s regional hegemony.” How is Iran “defying” the US other than by “challenging Israel’s regional hegemony”? I submit that Israel is the overriding factor; it’s the tail that wags the dog through the Lobby.

    “It [Iran] closed Iran to US multinationals and is openly opposed to Israeli state-sponsored terrorism and land theft.” The Iranian market remains closed to US multinationals becuase they are prevented from dealing with Iran via legistlations enacted by a US Congress that has been “bought and paid for by the Israel Lobby”.

  13. It would be typical of Israel to demand that the US give them jets, loans, and few extra billion NOT to attack Iran. As Emmanuel said, “Never fail to take advantage of a crisis.”

  14. But suppose Bibi and Barak ARE getting ready as we speak to start a war whose only purpose would be to prolong Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the M.E.; isn’t this exactly what they’d be saying right now – decision is “far off”?

  15. Professor Cole, are you seriously suggesting that oil prices had an effect on the end of the Nixon presidency?

    • I personally am certain if the oil crisis hadn’t angered Americans, Nixon would have tried to shamelessly bull his way through Watergate. They’re politicians, they obsess over poll numbers. Are you seriously suggesting that gas lines and giant price hikes and consequent double-digit inflation and even rationing had no effect on Nixon’s historically bad poll numbers that summer?

      Besides, later presidents have done worse things than Watergate and the public showed no support for impeachment – even when it was attempted. I’m not counting all the other things Nixon should have been executed for.

  16. Who knows? Maybe China and Saudi Arabia told Washington that they wouldn’t lend us money to finance another war, or even hold onto the Treasuries they already own. Despite America’s campaign to convince Arab monarchs of the Iranian threat, the monarchies don’t want another destabilizing war in the region – it gives their subjects too many ideas.

  17. It was Israel’s then-Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, himself of Iranian ancestry, who had in 2005 openly advocated and publically discussed taking military action against Iran as an option Israel had been planning while Ariel Sharon was prime minister. Israel did nothing.

    After the sub-par performance of the IDF in Lebanon in 2006, many in Israel opined that if the IDF had its hands full fighting 1,500 Hezbollah militiamen what would happen if it ended up in a military conflict with a nation like Iran with 75 milion people? Israel did not attack Iran during Ehud Olmert’s tenure as prime minister.

    Iran’s military chief of staff has already publicaly hinted at a ballistic missile retaliation if Israel takes action against Iran as it did with Iraq in 1981.

    I see Israel as hesitant to attempt anything more spectacular than the low-grade special operations missions that has been limited thus far to computer virus attacks and continued possible assasination of nuclear scientists to deter the Iranian development of a nuclear program.

    It is important to note there appears to be no international law or treaty violations that would occur if Iran maintains a nuclear program or manufactures some sort of nuclear weaponry.

    • “International law?” Is that an oxymoron?

      Out on the oceans, where big flag-of-convenience ships with tiny (more profitable) and often marginally competent crews, swoosh along with huge, minimally steerable momentum and inertia, and practically no brakes, and with GPS-driven autopilots at the helm, there are “laws” about responsibilities when vessels meet, with a danger of collision and loss. Everyone is fundamentally supposed to stay out of everyone else’s way, and there are positional “rules” that say who is the “stand on” vessel and who is the “give way’ vessel.

      But at the bottom of all that, as with “international law,” the real rule is more simply “Tonnage!” Big ships may play clumsy games of “Chicken,” reducing their watchfulness and focusing simply on minimizing fuel use and transit time, and the fact that it’s still a big ocean spares a lot of idiot captains from having to explain a big oil spill or how they hit a reef because somebody wanted a better view of the village lights ashore. Little boats are best advised, whatever the “rules” say, to keep out of the way of the Juggernauts.

      I guess the rule in the parallel universe of the Great Game is less Tonnage! than Megatonnage!

  18. “…Barack Obama was deeply alarmed by the degree to which tensions with Iran had been ratcheted up …”

    Well, he was out front on the ratcheting up of these tensions. Maybe, just maybe, he did some reading of his critics, who were warning him that he was playing with fire and was mistaken in thinking he could control the rhetoric.

    It appears that Obama woke up just in time, and read the riot act to the Israelis. Lots of Israelis, together with the lunatic fringe of American Zionism, are not happy about it. The fire has not been put out yet. Watch for moves on the part of the Mossad.

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